Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The Wildest Insurance Fraud Scheme Texas Has Ever Seen

Theodore Robert Wright III destroyed airplanes, yachts, and cars in one of the boldest insurance fraud schemes Texas has ever seen. That was only the half of it.

Theodore Robert Wright III
Mugshot, following his arrest in Las Vegas. 
Gregg County Jail

Federal agent Jim Reed at the Athens Jet Center in July 2020.

When federal agent Jim Reed drove in to a small airport in the East Texas city of Athens mid-morning on September 15, 2014, he was expecting to find a straightforward case of arson—an easy case for the new guy. He introduced himself to the Athens Jet Center co-owners, two brothers in their seventies named Wayne and Gaylon Addkison, who led Reed to a small jet, a 1971 Cessna 500 Citation I, that looked like it had been barbecued on a rotisserie. “It was burned in half,” Wayne Addkison recalled. “The nose tipped on the ground and the back half was on the ground too.”

For two weeks the Citation had just been sitting on the tarmac at Athens Municipal Airport, next to the Jet Center, they told Reed. But two days before Reed’s visit, they’d come into work after receiving a call: the plane was in flames. Reed, a fit 29-year-old who was as careful with his clean-cut brown hair and clean-shaven face as he was with his deposition-ready phrasing, was only six months into his job as an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Reed didn’t doubt that the fire was the result of arson: A mechanical failure on an inactive Citation was about as unlikely as a lightning strike. As one pilot would later say, “Planes don’t just catch fire in a hangar. They don’t spontaneously combust.” Driving out from Tyler, where he was based, Reed considered the typical arsonists who might be involved. Was this a teen vandal? A local troublemaker?

Later, when he reviewed the airport’s surveillance footage, he could see a shadow of a man thrown from the plane in a ball of fire when it exploded. He checked the area burn centers, hospitals, and morgues. Nobody had turned up with burns. Whoever set fire to the plane had somehow walked away in one piece.

The Addkisons told Reed that a pilot had flown a small plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza, in and out two weeks earlier, on August 29—just landed and then quickly took off. That alone seemed strange, the brothers agreed: rare is the pilot who flies into a small airport just to admire the layout. A couple days after that, the Bonanza showed up in Athens again—and this time, one of the airfield’s early risers, a pilot named Carroll Dyson, spotted its thirtysomething, dark-haired pilot slinking around the not-yet-toasted Citation. Innocently, Dyson initiated some small talk, and the pilot told him the Bonanza’s alternator and battery were having issues. “The plane won’t start,” the pilot said. Insistent on helping, Dyson looked at the battery, and then the pilot hopped in and turned the key. The plane started right up. “Well, it’s runnin’ now,” Dyson said. The pilot thanked him and took off.

In a small airport like the one in Athens, planes might come and go unannounced. But Dyson, who owned an aircraft-servicing business at the airport, was diligent about writing down tail numbers. Now Reed took note of the number Dyson gave him for the suspicious Bonanza: N273. Thanking everybody, Reed excused himself and called a worker at the Federal Aviation Administration, who told him that the Bonanza was in the process of being registered—the paperwork was so fresh, in fact, that it was sitting right there on his fax machine. The FAA representative shared the plane’s recent history with Reed: the Bonanza had been purchased in 2013 by Raymond Fosdick, whom Reed would later identify as the dark-haired pilot Dyson had spotted prowling around the airfield. Reed also learned the name of the owner of the burned Citation: Theodore Robert Wright III—“T. R.,” for short. He was a businessman with an address in the coastal town of Kemah, southeast of Houston.

Using his phone, Reed googled the two men’s names together. Within seconds, he realized the duo was internet-famous. He scrolled down and read the stories about a disastrous journey T. R. and Fosdick had taken two years earlier, in September of 2012. In what seemed to be a typical flight, the two left Baytown, near Houston, bound for Sarasota, Florida. Halfway there, 11,000 feet in the air, they noticed that their plane, a Beechcraft Baron, had caught fire. They used textbook procedures to carry out an emergency landing in the Gulf of Mexico, ditching the plane thirty miles from shore. Then they waited in the water, where sharks and Portuguese man-of-wars, which sting like jellyfish, have been spotted, to be rescued.

While they floated, T. R. documented their bobbing heads, and their subsequent rescue by the Coast Guard, on an iPad in a waterproof case. Wearing aviator sunglasses and a lightweight sun hat, T. R. looked straight into the iPad’s camera. His partner, Fosdick, was shyer. He smiled in the background with the obligation of a teen whose mom was asking him to pose nicely for a photo. “There’s Raymond,” T. R. said shortly after the ditching. “We seem to be okay, without injuries.” T. R. seemed only slightly out of breath as he navigated the waves on a flotation device. “I believe we’ve been in the water for about an hour now,” he said. “No sign of any rescue or emergency services yet.” As daylight dwindled, the two men treaded water for three hours, until the Coast Guard spotted and rescued them.

Reed also found a clip of the two on NBC’s Today show, one of many media outlets that shared their story. He pressed play and studied T. R. and Fosdick as they narrated their misadventure to awestruck host David Gregory. T. R.—the better-dressed of the two guests—had a lantern jaw, short-cropped hair, and rectangular glasses, and he sat on the set’s beige couch with his left ankle crossed over his right knee. He radiated confidence, intelligence, and ease as he told the tale. “People ask us, ‘Were you worried?’ Well, we weren’t worried at all,” T. R. said. Fosdick looked weary, with his left arm in a sling, yet he attempted the same bluster. Fear did enter his mind, he admitted with a submissive smile. “However, because of experience—because we’ve both been in stressful situations—we remained calm.”

Agent Reed didn’t know what to make of Fosdick and T. R.: First these two guys crash into the Gulf of Mexico together, then each flies into this tiny airport within days of each other, and two weeks later, T. R.’s jet bursts into flames. The more Reed dug, the more certain he became that the Citation fire was just one piece of a grand scheme.

T.R., who is now 35, had always sought adventure. When he was nine years old, he pushed a little Sunfish sailboat into Lake Champlain in Upstate New York and tried to sail the ten miles to Burlington, Vermont (much to his parents’ consternation). But as an adult, he found it was business deals that gave him a rush. He liked the competition, the stakes, and the thrill of achievement. And he loved to stir up drama. “He was always looking for something that had a story,” one of his associates told me. “And sometimes, he found things that had a story, and sometimes . . . he kind of created the story himself.”

Read more here:

Theodore Robert Wright, III

Cessna 177RG Cardinal RG, N1813Q: Accident occurred July 24, 2020 in Salinas, Puerto Rico

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; San Juan, Puerto Rico

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Salinas, PR
Accident Number: ERA20LA261
Date & Time: 07/24/2020, 1002 AST
Registration: N1813Q
Aircraft: Cessna 177RG
Injuries: 2 None
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Instructional

On July 24, 2020, about 1002 Atlantic standard time, a Cessna 177RG, N1813Q, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Salinas, Puerto Rico. The private pilot and the flight instructor were not injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 instructional flight.

The pilot, who was the owner of the airplane, stated that he performed a thorough preflight inspection and an engine run-up before departure with no fuel contamination noted and no discrepancies with the run-up reported. The flight departed from Fernando Luis Ribas Dominicci Airport, San Juan, Puerto Rico, about 0852 with full fuel tanks and flew west, where according to ADS-B data when near Dorado, he briefly performed airwork, then proceeded to Mercedita Airport (TJPS), Ponce, Puerto Rico. There he performed 1 touch-and-go landing followed by 2 full-stop taxi back landings. After takeoff from TJPS while en route to Jose Aponte de la Torre Airport, Ceiba, Puerto Rico, the flight climbed to about 1,100 ft mean sea level. While flying at that altitude, and at a speed between 120 and 130 miles-per-hour in an easterly direction, he "felt this very mild, very mild vibration" followed by a, "very smooth gradual loss of engine power." He informed the flight instructor of the loss of engine power and turned on the auxiliary fuel pump but that did not restore engine power. The on-board engine analyzer indicated that the engine was shock cooling with corresponding decrease of exhaust gas temperature (EGT) and cylinder head temperature (CHT) readings. He noted an open area to his left and informed the flight instructor of the impending forced landing. He landed in the intended area with the landing gear and flaps full down, and during the landing roll he retracted the flaps. When the airplane was nearly stopped, it nosed over.

Following the accident, the airplane was uprighted and by calculation about 21 gallons of fuel were drained from the left wing fuel tank while only a residual amount of fuel was drained from the right fuel tank. Slight water contamination was noted at the servo fuel injector inlet screen, which was nearly completely blocked on the interior with ferrous material. A slight amount of water was also found in both wing fuel tanks, the airframe fuel strainer and the fuel drain located in the area of the pilot's seat. Disassembly inspection of the engine-driven fuel pump revealed significant corrosion of the internal steel valves. The airplane was recovered for further examination of the fuel system.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Cessna
Registration: N1813Q
Model/Series: 177RG No Series
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: TJNR, 38 ft msl
Observation Time: 0953 AST
Distance from Accident Site: 41 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 29°C / 24°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Few / 2800 ft agl
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 10 knots / , 110°
Lowest Ceiling: Broken / 5000 ft agl
Visibility: 7 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.04 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Ponce, PR (TJPS)
Destination: Ceiba, PR (TJRV)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 2 None
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries:N/A
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 None
Latitude, Longitude: 17.956111, -66.284444

Piper PA-18 Super Cub, N1277A: Accident occurred July 26, 2020 at Gold King Creek Airport (PAAN), Fairbanks, Alaska

NTSB Identification: ANC20CA080
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, July 26, 2020 in Fairbanks, AK
Aircraft: Piper PA 18, registration: N1277A

NTSB investigators will use data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator, and will not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.

Loss of Control in Flight: Maule MXT-7-180A Sportplane, N772TW; accident occurred July 26, 2020 in Hillsboro, Montgomery County, Illinois

Additional Participating Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Springfield, Illinois

Aviation Accident Factual Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Hillsboro, IL
Accident Number: CEN20CA308
Date & Time: 07/26/2020, 1931 CDT
Registration: N772TW
Aircraft: MAULE MXT7
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Loss of control in flight
Injuries: 1 Serious
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal

The pilot conducted a visual approach to land at a grass airstrip with tall crops adjacent to the runway. As he was landing a deer jumped out of the crops onto the runway. The pilot pulled the nose up to avoid hitting the deer and the airplane stalled. The airplane hit the ground and "flipped" two times, substantially damaging the tail, wings, and fuselage.The pilot was seriously injured.

Pilot Information

Certificate: Private
Age: 64, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine Land
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None
Restraint Used:
Instrument Rating(s): None
Second Pilot Present:
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification: Unknown Unknown
Last FAA Medical Exam: 09/13/2018
Occupational Pilot: No
Last Flight Review or Equivalent: 01/07/2020
Flight Time: 335 hours (Total, all aircraft), 24 hours (Total, this make and model), 311 hours (Pilot In Command, all aircraft), 20 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 8.4 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft)

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: MAULE
Registration: N772TW
Model/Series: MXT7 180A
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture:
Amateur Built:No
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal
Serial Number: 21075C
Landing Gear Type: Tricycle
Date/Type of Last Inspection: 07/03/2020, Annual
Certified Max Gross Wt.:
Time Since Last Inspection:
Engines: Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 983 Hours at time of accident
Engine Manufacturer: Lycoming
ELT: Installed, activated, did not aid in locating accident
Engine Model/Series: 360
Registered Owner:On file
Rated Power:
Operator:On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: 3LF
Distance from Accident Site: 8 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 1845 CDT
Direction from Accident Site: 229°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Visibility: 10 Miles
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: Light and Variable /
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual:
Wind Direction: Variable
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual:
Altimeter Setting: 30.06 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: 26°C / 23°C
Precipitation and Obscuration:
Departure Point: Hillsboro, IL (1LL5)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: Hillsboro, IL (1LL5)
Type of Clearance: VFR
Departure Time: CDT
Type of Airspace: Class A

Airport Information

Airport: Justison Airport (1LL5)
Runway Surface Type: Grass/turf
Airport Elevation: 650 ft
Runway Surface Condition: Dry
Runway Used: N/A
IFR Approach:None
Runway Length/Width:
VFR Approach/Landing: Straight-in

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Serious
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Serious
Latitude, Longitude: 39.242500, -89.550833 (est)

Cessna 177RG Cardinal RG, N2629V: Accident occurred July 26, 2020 at Lakeland Linder International Airport (KLAL), Polk County, Florida

EYW Flying LLC

NTSB Identification: ERA20CA276
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, July 26, 2020 in Lakeland, FL
Aircraft: Cessna 177RG, registration: N2629V

NTSB investigators will use data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator, and will not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.

Piper PA-28R-200 Cherokee Arrow II, N15302: Accident occurred July 28, 2020 in Houston, Texas

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Houston, Texas

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Houston, TX
Accident Number: CEN20LA314
Date & Time: 07/28/2020, 0142 CDT
Registration: N15302
Aircraft: Piper PA28R
Injuries: 2 Serious
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal

On July 28, 2020, about 0142 central daylight time, a Piper PA-28R-200 airplane, N15302, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Houston, Texas. The pilot and passenger were seriously injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

The airplane crashed into a residential area after an apparent loss of engine power during cruise flight. The flight was a cross-country flight that originated, and was planned to return to the Sugar Land Regional Airport (SGR), Houston, Texas, with stops at the Tyler Pounds Regional Airport (TYR), Tyler, Texas, and the Stan Stamper Municipal Airport (HHW), Hugo, Oklahoma.

According to automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) data for the accident airplane, the flight originated from SGR at 2103 and landed at TYR about 2239 and remained on the ground until 2251. At 2251 the airplane departed TYR and flew to HHW, arriving about 2342. The airplane did not remain on the ground at HHW and proceeded south on a course back toward SGR. The accident occurred at 0142 when the airplane was about 14 nautical miles north of SGR.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Piper
Registration: N15302
Model/Series: PA28R 200
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operator: Anson Air Llc
Operating Certificate(s) Held: Pilot School (141)

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Night
Observation Facility, Elevation:
Observation Time: 0653 UTC
Distance from Accident Site:
Temperature/Dew Point: 25°C / 23°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 6 knots / , 140°
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility: 10 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 29.97 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed:
Departure Point: Tyler, TX (TYR)
Destination: Houston, TX

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Serious
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: 1 Serious
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 Serious
Latitude, Longitude:

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The person behind the controls of a small plane that crashed in a west Harris County neighborhood overnight Tuesday was on the last leg of a training flight as part of a commercial pilot course, according to the company that owns the aircraft.

In an email to ABC13, Dana C. Atkinson, the president of Anson Aviation in Sugar Land, said the unidentified pilot-in-training was supposed to land at three airports at night, with one leg of at least 250 miles, as part of a cross-country flight scenario.

Atkinson added none of his instructors was onboard since the flight is required to be done solo. The aircraft crashed with the trainee and a passenger who wasn't immediately identified.

"We do not yet know the identity of the passenger," said Atkinson.

The two occupants were injured and hospitalized following the crash-landing in a front yard in the Bear Creek neighborhood. It happened around 2 a.m. on Boulder Oaks Drive, according to the Harris County Precinct 5 Constable's Office.

When deputies arrived, they found the plane with the fuselage mostly intact. Investigators say the pilot, age 40, is in worse shape than his passenger, a 33-year-old.

According to DPS, the pilot was headed to the Sugar Land airport when the plane lost power while flying 7,000 feet in the air.

"I would venture to say there was a higher power at work here. It's hard for me to conceptualize. I'm at five, six, 7,000 feet and I'm lying in the street right here going in whatever land speed that they were going. So I tend to believe that there's probably a higher power at work here," Sgt. Richard Standifer with DPS said.

In the early hours following the crash, Atkinson, whom the plane's registration names, said the aircraft was "within all maintenance and inspection requirements," and that the pilot is an experienced customer of theirs.

According to the FlightAware website, the plane appears to have been traveling out of Tyler, Texas, before it crashed.

The pilot went down in front of a home and hit a tree.

"That didn't hit any houses, didn't hit any cars, just amazing. That is amazing," neighbor Marsha Miller told ABC13.

The owner of the home where the plane went down said she thought the sound of the crash was thunder.

"I thought it was a thunder, you know how the weather's been, like, up and down crazy. So I thought it was actually thunder until my mom comes, like, running out her room. She's like, 'The truck,' because we're always parked right there, so she automatically thought somebody had hit the truck," homeowner Frida Rodriguez said. "And she comes out, and I come out running behind her and it was really dark so we couldn't really see. And my mom said 'I'll turn on my flashlight,' and we see it was a whole plane. So it was just crazy."

Cy-Fair Fire Department crews say they had to extricate one person who was trapped in the wreckage from the plane.

Both people were transported to Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center.

Investigators say they don't know the relationship between the two.

The crash is under investigation.

HOUSTON – Two people were injured when the small airplane they were traveling in crashed into the front yard of a home in the Bear Creek area of Harris County.

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, the pilot put out a mayday call about 1 a.m. and said the aircraft, which was headed to Sugar Land, had lost power at an altitude of 7,000 feet.

Investigators said the pilot ended up having to divert to a place where he believed he could land. Just before 2 a.m., the plane clipped a tree and light pole before slamming into the ground outside of a home in the 15700 block of Boulder Oaks Drive.

Residents of the neighborhood described hearing a loud boom as the plane crashed.

Ryan Carter said he came outside to find the pilot still trapped in the plane.

“He wasn’t there at all, I was just asking him if he could hear me,” said Carter.

The pilot suffered a head injury while the passenger suffered a broken wrist, officials said. Both were taken to a hospital for treatment. aboard the plane were taken to a hospital to be treated for their injuries.

Who owns the plane?

Records indicate the Piper PA-28R-200 Cherokee Arrow II belongs to Anson Aviation out of Sugar Land. The company said the plane was properly maintained and the pilot was well-qualified.

The company said the pilot was completing a lesson in the commercial pilot training course that requires a long cross-country flight at night with stops at three airports. It also said it is gathering more information about the circumstances surrounding the crash.

Federal Aviation Administration investigators responded to the crash site and the FAA released the following statement:

“A single-engine Piper PA-28 with two people onboard crashed early this morning in a residential area in Houston, Texas.

The accident occurred at approximately 2 a.m. local time while the plane was flying to Sugarland, Texas. FAA investigators have been dispatched to the accident site, and the National Transportation Safety Board, which will be in charge of the investigation, has been notified.”

Beechcraft F33A Bonanza, N3156W: Fatal accident occurred July 28, 2020 in Malbis, Baldwin County, Alabama

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities:

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Birmingham, Alabama
Textron Aviation; Wichita, Kansas
Continental Aerospace Technologies; Mobile, Alabama

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board: 

Location: Malbis, AL

Accident Number: ERA20LA262
Date & Time: 07/28/2020, 1901 CDT
Registration: N3156W
Aircraft: Beech F33
Injuries:2 Fatal 
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal

On July 28, 2020, about 1901 central daylight time, a Beech F33A, N3156W, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident in Malbis, Alabama. The private pilot and the passenger were fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

The pilot held a private pilot certificate a rating for airplane single-engine land, he did not have an instrument rating. Family members reported that the pilot's original plan was to return home to the Northwest Alabama Regional Airport (MSL), Muscle Shoals, Alabama, on either July 29 or July 30, depending on the weather. The pilot had a business meeting scheduled for July 29.

On the afternoon of July 28 the pilot called flight service for a weather briefing. A review of that recorded briefing revealed that the pilot inquired about the weather for his route of flight from Jack Edwards National Airport (JKA), Gulf Shores, Alabama to MSL, for both the afternoon of July 28 and the following day July 29th, with his preference for the following day at 1200. 

The briefer responded "it doesn't look good" for the following day, with thunderstorms, rain showers, low ceilings and reduced visibility expected, and that visual flight rules (VFR) flight was not recommended. 

The pilot then inquired about the weather for a flight that afternoon around 1800. 

The briefer responded "That's not looking so good right now" and advised that there were thunderstorms and rain showers over the area, and a convective SIGMET for the southern portion of his route, which noted an area of thunderstorms moving eastward. 

For the northern portion of the route, a center weather advisory was in effect for developing thunderstorms, and "weather" was currently building along and on both sides of the route and around the destination. 

The briefer advised that VFR flight was not recommended.

The pilot responded "It looks like my best shot is, I'm gonna probably go this afternoon because it's going to be worse tomorrow…what I'm seeing… reported… online anyway is that everything is VFR as we speak … are you seeing anything… between here and Muscle Shoals that's not VFR?" 

The briefer responded "I have some clouds that are between 1,200 and 2,000 feet and…then some higher clouds…multiple layers of clouds, I don't see anybody that's reporting [instrument meteorological conditions] either visibility or ceilings but there are clouds that are you know getting down pretty close to it even though they're scattered. You get into the areas where the precipitation is, and it could be IFR." 

The pilot responded "Well, I feel confident that if I go during the daylight that I can, unless I got a solid line of thunderstorms, that I can go around a lot of precipitation."

The pilot added "If I'm going VFR I'm going this afternoon, unless I got clouds that are getting low enough that I can't fly… and I haven't heard anything to tell me that." 

The briefer then offered a recent weather observation from Mobile, Alabama (about 25 miles west of the intended route of flight) which indicated a visibility of 1.5 miles in heavy rain and mist, and advised that areas along the route of flight that may be experiencing rain showers or thunderstorms may have the visibility or ceilings reduced to instrument meteorological conditions, as it did in Mobile. 

The pilot and briefer then discussed where the precipitation was occurring, and the location covered by the convective SIGMETs in the area before concluding the call.

According to a customer service representative at a fixed based operator (FBO) at JKA, the pilot and his wife spent about 1 hour in the FBO, and the pilot kept checking the weather in the flight planning room, and on a monitor in the lobby which displayed weather radar from FlightAware.

The pilot called a family member about 1800 and said that he was unsure if he would be able to depart that evening and discussed returning to the house for dinner. About 15-20 minutes later, the pilot telephoned again, and said "they had a window and were leaving after all."

According to preliminary air traffic control (ATC) radar data provided by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the airplane departed JKA about 1845, and toward the north. At 1847 the pilot contacted ATC and requested VFR flight following, and advised that his intended altitude was 3,000 ft. At 1854, the airplane turned left about 90 degrees (heading west) and descended from 3,200 ft to 2,500 ft. 

A witness located in her back yard about 1/2--mile from the turn reported hearing a small airplane nearby and described the engine sound as making the "same sound as when crop dusters dive." She tried to look for the airplane, however the "cloud cover was just too thick" and the "vertical visibility was very low". The airplane then sounded as though it recovered and flew away.

At 1854:17, the air traffic controller asked the pilot, "Do you need any help on that that cell off to your north there? Looks like you took uh pretty harsh westbound turn." The pilot did not reply. 

About 30 seconds later, the controller contacted the pilot, and advised him that if he continued westbound for about 10 miles, he would be "clear of all that weather north of you." The pilot did not respond. 

At 1855:53, the controller successfully handed off the flight to another controller, and the airplane began a turn to the north. When the new controller asked the pilot what his intentions were, he replied "right now I'm trying to get through [unintelligible] clouds here." 

The controller then asked the pilot if he intended to continue to toward the northwest and advised that a west heading for about 5 or 6 miles would "get you in to less precip."  The pilot acknowledged. 

At 1856:25 The controller advised that there was an area about 5 miles north of his current position, about 10 miles in diameter, of "heavy to extreme precipitation." The pilot did not respond and there were no further communications between the pilot and ATC for the next four minutes. 

The airplane's track continued in a north-northeasterly direction (see figure 1), and climbed to an altitude of about 5,200 ft. After having traveled about 5 miles on the northerly heading, at 1859 the airplane began a 360° turn to the left, during which the altitude increased from 5,000 ft to 5,800 ft and then decreased back to 5000 ft. 

Over the next two minutes, the track became erratic as the altitude decreased from 5,000 to 1,275 ft and the groundspeed varied up and down between 150 and 34 knots. At 1900:23 the pilot transmitted only a partial callsign and there were no further communications from the pilot. The airplane's last position was recorded at 19:00:47, located about 0.1 nautical mile northeast of the accident site.

Figure 1 – The airplane's radar-derived flight track (magenta) overlaid on top of the Mobile, Alabama WSR-88D weather radar scan for 1857. The white circle shows the approximate location of the airplane at that time. 

The 1855 weather conditions reported at HL Sonny Callahan Airport (CQF), Fairhope, Alabama, located about 18 nautical miles southwest of the accident site, included overcast skies at 1,200 ft, visibility ½ (statute) mile, heavy rain, temperature 23° C, dewpoint 22°C, wind calm.

Examination of the accident site by an FAA inspector revealed that the airplane struck trees, impacted a field, and came to rest upright at the end of a 215 ft long debris path. The path was oriented along 271° magnetic heading. Most of the fuselage above and forward of the wings was consumed by a post-impact fire. Both wings exhibited leading edge crush damage. The wing center section, areas near both wing roots and the right-wing leading edge sustained significant fire damage. The empennage was largely intact.

The engine was completely separated from the fuselage and was found 40 ft to the southwest of the main wreckage. The engine sustained impact damage but was largely intact and did not sustain any fire damage. The engine case appeared intact with no holes or breeches.

According to FAA airworthiness records, the airplane was equipped with electronic primary and multifunction displays. The primary flight display included a synthetic vision function. The records indicated that at the time of their installation, neither the multifunction nor the primary display were equipped to receive or display weather data.

The airplane was retained for further examination.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Beech

Registration: N3156W
Model/Series: F33 A
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Instrument Conditions

Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: CQF, 92 ft msl
Observation Time: 1855 CDT
Distance from Accident Site: 18 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 23°C / 22°C
Lowest Cloud Condition:
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: Calm / ,
Lowest Ceiling: Overcast / 1200 ft agl
Altimeter Setting: 30.03 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: Unknown
Departure Point: Gulf Shores, AL (JKA)
Destination: Muscle Shoals, AL (MSL) 

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal

Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Fire: On-Ground
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 30.713333, -87.705000

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email 

Timothy and Doris Rhodes

After spending time with family, on July 28th, 2020, Tim and Doris Rhodes boarded a plane in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and lost their lives in a tragic accident not long after takeoff. Their final flight took them to be with God in their forever home. 

Timothy Ray Rhodes, born December 01, 1955 to Ralph and Wyolen Rhodes, was a lifetime resident of Florence, AL. He was the Owner of Tim Rhodes Properties and Shoals MPE. In 1986, working out of one truck, he started Tim Rhodes Electric which later became Shoals MPE. There was one thing that motivated and drove Tim to his success that was his family and knowing that he was creating a legacy to leave behind for each of them. Balance between work and family was something that was very important to Tim. The advantage of starting his work days early allowed him time to spend with his children and grandchildren — whether that was watching a game from a bench, flying the grandkids around the house in one of his planes, or sharing the weekend at the beach with family. Tim was a perfectionist and expected the best out of everyone. Some may say he gave tough love, but he had worked so hard to get to where he was, and he wanted nothing more than to see all of his family be successful. Tim was a member of the Home Builders Association, Association of General Contractors and Shoals Air Services Committee.

Tim had a huge soft spot for children. One thing that would brighten his day was the sight of a child. There was nothing he loved more than to be in the presence of children laughing and playing. During holidays, while other adults were socializing, Tim would be seen in the middle of grandchildren, making sure they were having a good time and being a kid himself. Being a pilot of 20 years, Tim also enjoyed flying and showing others his planes.

Tim was preceded in death by his father, Ralph Rhodes, and his brother, Roland Rhodes.

Doris Dean Thomas Rhodes was born October 01, 1956 to Tommy and “ Tootsie" Marie Richardson and was a lifetime resident of Florence, AL. Truly an Angel placed here on earth to so many, Doris made such a positive impact on anyone with whom she came in contact.

Doris was known as the glue that kept the family together, always making sure everyone was taken care of, even if it meant doing without for herself. Throughout all of her success she remained the most selfless and humble soul who never met a stranger. This love was taught to her at an early age thru her Mother and MaMaw Murphy, both of whom she idolized and looked up to so much. Love was something Doris never ran out of, and one would question how she had so much to give. Holidays, birthdays, or any occasion, she used as an excuse to get her family together, since there was nothing she loved more. Grandchildren, nieces, and nephews were the center of her life. If there was one thing she would want to leave behind it would be unity. She would desire her entire family to grow closer through this experience.

All that knew Doris held her in the highest regard and loved her dearly. Her compassion, nurturing nature, and wisdom will live on as a legacy of love.

Doris was preceded in death by her grandfather, Hob Murphy; grandmother, Marie Murphy (MaMaw); mother, Tootsie Richardson; and brother, Charlie Richardson. 

Tim and Doris were high school sweethearts and were joined in marriage on January 06, 1973. They had two children, Darian Rhodes and Beth Dorsett.

Family was their everything, and having everyone together was always so important for both Tim and Doris. Whether you were at Rhodes Landing, the beach, or on the lake, they made certain that family and friends shared all aspects of their life together. Being a self-made successful couple, neither of them ever forgot where they came from, and they always gave back to those they loved. 

Tim and Doris Rhodes are survived by their son, Darian (Shannon) Rhodes, and their three daughters, Emma, Lillie, and Bella; daughter, Beth Dorsett, and her three sons, Dreyden, Drake, and Dallan; Tim’s mother, Wyolen Rhodes; brother, Steve (Deb) Rhodes; sister, Deb (Mike) Bevis; Doris’s brother, William (Angie) Thomas; sister, Mary Barnett; and a host of other family and friends. 

Tim and Doris provided countless lifelong memories for their children, extended family and friends, and they will forever live in our hearts and memories. They would both tell us today to remember them with smiles and laughter, for that is how they will remember us all. 

Visitation will be August 14th, 2020 at Faith Church. The funeral service will begin at the church with Mike Bevis officiating. A private family burial will take place in Rhodesville United Methodist Church Cemetery.

Active pallbearers for Tim Rhodes will be Ricky Agee, Junior Witt, Dustin Rhodes, Shane Palmer, Paul Parrish and Mike Palmer. Active pallbearers for Doris Rhodes will be Jeremy Thacker, Jimmy Thompson, Charlie Burchell, Tim Higgins, Rusty Howell and Brandon Rhodes. Serving as honorary pallbearers for the family will be Paul Darby, Milton Hearn, Dusty Rhodes and Marshall Mitchell.

In lieu of flowers the family requests donations be made to: Easter Seals NW AL at 1450 Avalon Ave - Muscle Shoals, AL 35661.

STAPLETON, Alabama — It has been officially confirmed it was a husband and wife from Florence who were killed in a small plane crash July 28th in a wooded area near Stapleton.

Baldwin County Coroner Dr. Brian Pierce said Wednesday that his office has confirmed through dental records the identity of the woman killed in the deadly crash as 63-year-old Doris Rhodes of Florence, wife of the pilot, 65-year-old Timothy Ray Rhodes of Florence, who was identified on July 29.

Capt. Clint Cadenhead with the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office Central Investigations Command said the two were killed when the small plane crashed just after 7 p.m. July 28 in a heavily wooded area in the area of Mosley Road in Stapleton.

According to news media reports, the Beechcraft F33A Bonanza owned by QT Flyers LLC based in Florence, took off from the Jack Edwards Airport in Gulf Shores at around 6:45 p.m. that day and was last seen around 7:01 p.m.

Cadenhead said BCSO received the call at around 7:15 p.m. July 28 when the crash was spotted by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter.

Just before 8 p.m., the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office reported on social media that deputies and fire units were headed to the scene of a “general aviation plane crash.”

More than two hours later, BCSO posted that fire department units were able to make their way to the crash site by the use of ATVs.

“This was a heavily wooded area,” Cadenhead said. “There were no homes in the area and no roads leading up to the crash site, so it took crews a couple of hours to get to the site.”

Both victims were transported from the scene by ATV, then transported to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences in Mobile.

In addition to BCSO deputies and U.S. Coast Guard officials, Cadenhead said, officers with the Loxley Police Department, fire crews from Styx River, Loxley and Stapleton also responded to the crash.

According to the email sent by Cadenhead, investigators met with Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board the following morning. The NTSB will be the primary investigative agency handling the case, along with the Baldwin County Coroner’s Office.

STAPLETON, Alabama — (WPMI) — UPDATE August 9: The Baldwin County Coroner's Office has confirmed the identity of the second victim of this crash as Doris Rhodes of Florence, Alabama, the Baldwin County Sheriff's Office says.

Rain, mud, and tough terrain hampered recovery efforts Tuesday night and again Wednesday.

“Every bad condition that exists, that's what we had last night,” said Styx River volunteer fire fighter Hubert Dunbar.

We do know that the Beechcraft F33A Bonanza took off from Jack Edwards Airport in Gulf Shores at about 6:45 last night and was scheduled to fly to Muscle Shoals. It was last seen on radar around 7:01 p.m. flying through a strong storm that moved through our area.

“We had to go quite a few miles up through the woods and down all these dirt roads to get back there to the crash site," said Dunbar.

A Coast Guard helicopter spotted the burning plane and landed near first responders to guide them to the crash site.

“He landed on behind us, and behind that, it just amazed me. That must have been the most experienced pilot there ever was because that was a tight L.Z.,” Dunbar says.

It took first responders and investigators several hours on 4x4s and ATVs to reach the scene. When investigators got there, they found two people dead.

Eurocopter AS 350B3e Ecureuil, N755AE: Fatal accident occurred July 29, 2020 in Pioche, Lincoln County, Nevada

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entity:

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Las Vegas, Nevada

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Pioche, NV

Accident Number: WPR20LA244
Date & Time: 07/29/2020, 1000 PDT
Registration: N755AE
Injuries: 2 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Business

On July 29, 2020, about 1000 Pacific daylight time, an American Eurocopter Corp. AS350B3 helicopter, N755AE, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Pioche, Nevada. The pilot and passenger were fatally injured. The helicopter was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91 positioning flight.

A witness reported dropping off the pilot and passenger at the helicopter and noticed that the long line was laid out and attached to the belly of the helicopter.

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspectors, who responded to the site, the helicopter was on its right side in mountainous densely forested desert terrain at an elevation of 6,741 ft mean sea level (MSL). (See Figure 1). The steel long line cable impacted the main rotor blades and was also entangled in the separated tail rotor. The tail rotor with one blade attached was 21 ft. from the main wreckage. Approximately 30 ft. of long line and one tail rotor blade were not located. The vertical stabilizer was 365 ft. from the main wreckage.

The helicopter was recovered to a secure facility for further examination.

Figure 1 - View of Main Wreckage with long line visible.
(Lincoln County Sheriff's Office)

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Registration: N755AE
Model/Series:AS350 B3
Aircraft Category:Airplane
Amateur Built:No
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: Rotorcraft External Load (133)

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KSGU, 2936 ft msl
Observation Time: 1656 UTC
Distance from Accident Site: 67 Nautical Miles
Temperature/Dew Point: 31°C / -2°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: Calm / ,
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility: 10 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.02 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: Unknown
Departure Point: Cedar City, UT (CDC)
Destination: Pioche, NV

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries:1 Fatal
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries:N/A
Aircraft Explosion:None
Total Injuries: 2 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 37.920000, -114.540000 (est)

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email

James E. Robinson
April 23rd, 1959 - July 29th, 2020

James (Jim) E. Robinson, 61, Elizabeth, IN, passed away unexpectedly Wednesday in Pioche, NV. He was born in New Albany, IN, to James W. Robinson (deceased) and Patricia Busby. He graduated from Floyd Central HS in 1977 and went on to graduate from Purdue University in 1981 with a BA in Aeronautical Engineering. He was an entrepreneur in Aviation and a Visionary Man and a World Traveler. Along with operating several companies as Owner, President and Chief Pilot, he also had several ongoing cutting-edge projects. One thing he frequently quoted was, "You can be a pioneer or a settler and I choose to be a pioneer" and he certainly was.

Survivors, his sons, Joe Robinson and Sean Robinson; daughter, Jenny Laios (Chris) along with six grandchildren, Owen, Kelliann, Wyatt, Maggie, Daxon and Shelby.  Also survived by his mother, Patricia Busby (Arthur) and step-mother, Phyllis Robinson; four sisters and five brothers, along with numerous nieces and nephews.

Visitation will be August 10th, 2020 at the Market Street Chapel of Naville & Seabrook Funeral home at 1119 East Market St, New Albany IN. Funeral service will be August 11, 2020. Service to be held at Grace Lutheran Church in New Albany, IN with burial to follow at Kraft-Graceland in New Albany, Indiana.

Expressions of sympathy in honor of Jim to Challenge Air at With over 17000 hours of flight time in the air he never lost his passion to pass on his love of aviation to the next generation.

LaDonna Jean (Dillard) Stroud
August 13th, 1967 - July 29th, 2020

LaDonna Jean (Dillard) Stroud, 52, of Elizabeth, Indiana, went home to be with the Lord on July 29, 2020. Her earthly life came to an end in a tragic helicopter accident in the Nevada Mountains. She was accompanied in death by her fiancé, James (Jim) E. Robinson of Elizabeth, Indiana.

LaDonna was born in Paoli, Indiana on August 13, 1967, the daughter of Wayne and Brenda Dillard. She was a 1986 graduate of Paoli High School. As a young woman, she worked as a medical transcriptionist which began a devoted career as a lifelong nurse. She graduated IUPUI with her BSN in 2015.

Her most recent accomplishment was obtaining her Master of Science in Nursing with her focus on Family Nurse Practitioner from Indiana Wesleyan University in 2019.

LaDonna had previously worked as a flight nurse with the Air Evac Lifeteam in Paoli, Indiana.  Over the years, she held various positions in the nursing field and was most recently employed with IU Health Southern Indiana Physicians as a Family Nurse Practitioner.  As a young mother, she committed her life to Christ and was baptized in the Lord at The Paoli Church of Christ. She was a member of Northside Christian Church in New Albany, Indiana.

LaDonna was one of the most loving, caring, and adventurous people anyone could know. Most of all she was a wonderful mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, and friend. LaDonna’s favorite thing to do was spend time with her precious grandchildren, Bentley, Kaymen, Everett and Kashtyn. They were the light of “Gammy” and Jim’s world. 

LaDonna and Jim loved to spend time flying, sailing, cruising, and traveling the world with friends and family. Some of her favorite trips included Mackinac Island, Australia, Fiji, Bora Bora, St. Lucia, and the Bahamas. She would often accompany Jim on work trips, doing what they enjoyed, flying and seeing new places.

She is survived by:
Daughter: Olivia Reeder (Kyle) of Georgetown, IN
Grandson: Everett Reeder
Son: Evan Stroud (Sierra) of New Albany, IN
Granddaughter: Kashtyn Stroud
Grandsons: Bentley and Kaymen Stroud, and their mother, Haley James of English, IN
First husband and father to her two children: Chris Stroud (Angela) of Georgetown, IN
Parents: Everett Wayne and Brenda Newlin Dillard of Paoli, IN
Brothers: Mike Dillard (Beverly) of Paoli, IN and Darren Dillard of Paoli, IN
LaDonna is also survived by several aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and an abundance of friends.

Funeral services will be August 9th, 2020 at the Dillman-Scott Funeral Home located at 226 W Campbell St, Paoli, Indiana 47454. Visitation will be August 8th, 2020.Interment will be in the Paoli Community Cemetery. 

Donations can be made to the charity of your choice, in LaDonna’s name, or to the family to assist in offsetting expenses.